In a day when most cities are throwing the responsibility for the care of street trees onto property owners, the city of Ceres is embarking on a proactive program to take care of trees.
At its meeting of July 8, the Ceres City Council approved the new proactive program. The move was a follow-up to a May study session in which the council determined to prune city street trees on a five-year cycle and now to throw maintenance responsibilities into the lap of homeowners and save $100,000 annually. In May the City Council decided to add $25,000 to the annual $100,000 street tree budget as well as spend $46,000 annually over three next years to either prune or remove and replace some of the "high-risk" trees that threaten to topple and damage property or take lives.
The city contracts with West Coast Arborists to care for the street trees in Ceres. The company took inventory of the 11,509 street trees and learned that 377 have been classified as a hazard or dead and in need of removal. The city also learned that 2,864 sites where trees should be planted are not and in need of planting.
The average cost per year of removing dead, dying or diseased trees is $28,000, said Jeremy Damas, the city's Deputy Public Works Director. Replantings will cost $25,000 a year and maintenance will run about $25,000 annually.
Until now, the city has only pruned trees as requested by homeowners or on an as-needed basis. But because the city has capped tree care at $100,000 annually - which comes out of the general fund - it had been unable to keep up with demand. The city had not been able to keep up with the average annual 184 requests per year for tree trimming, 209 requests for removal and 45 requests for re-plantings.
The city estimates that the trees have a value of $24.5 million based on height and species for insurance purposes.
The new computer program and inventory process has defined which trees are city street trees and which were planted by homeowners. Confusion has resulted about some trees because in some cases the city planted trees in the public utility easement but outside of the planting easement.
Wells said the Arbor Access program allows a city worker to use a hand-held device to stand by any tree to ascertain if the city is responsible for its care.
The city asked West Coast Arborist to put together a plan to prune street trees - the majority of which are Chinese pistaches and ash trees -- on an every five years basis. That cost comes to $138,000 over the five years. Damas said the plan would allow the city to stay on top of tree maintenance.
A tree would not be pruned if not in the five-year cycle unless it threatens public safety or property.